I knew this game would be a grind and it certainly was. I hope y'all played the 48.5 point under recommendation.
Generally, turning points aren't obvious without the benefit of sufficient distance and hindsight (Nebraska was supposed to be a turning point last year...until Iowa State), but this feels like a crucial pivot in the revitalization of the program. Even if it may not be reflected in any tangible difference in this season's record.
Without having to suffer the indignity of a home loss, we acquired the on-field evidence necessary to force a change at QB and, equally encouraging, we saw freshmen and sophomores put the team on their shoulders and refuse to fold, a defense that wouldn't give in despite a first half offense and special teams that kept hamstringing them, and we took BYU down the hard way - chipping away with ball peens on a granite front 7 instead of attacking a secondary made of clay (necessity, not bad tactics).
I asked in my game preview if we were ready for a game whose outcome would rest on Garrett Gilbert's shoulders and we learned that answer in a quarter and a half. Better now than later. There was plenty of candy available to take in BYU's secondary, but GG couldn't execute. As bad as 2 of 8 for 8 yards and 2 interceptions sounds, it was harder to watch. A terrific poster named P on Shaggy Bevo does a nice job breaking down his throws. It's worth your time if you want to understand why the coaches had to make that move.
Case McCoy's 7 of 8 for 57 yard performance was the spark we needed and though Shipley bailed him out with a triple coverage 14 yard hurdle catch, the 20 yard flip between safety and corner was money as was the cool-headed 4th and 4 conversion to DJ Grant at the sticks. Case managed the game and gave us stability. Having Malcolm Brown attached to his offense helped too. I still question his upside in a downfield offense, I don't like that he habitually bails from clean pockets, he's not a run threat, and I cringe a little at the thought of teams preparing for him specifically, but McAsh makes sense to me until one guy asserts himself.
We can't protest coronations at the QB position if we're not willing to let on-field performance decide things. So let's do it. Play them both, take their growing pains into account, let them separate, and cobble together an offense. We're playing for 2013 as much as 2011.
Ash really made the offense go and was a tough grinder when we needed him to make some hard yards (9-36 rushing). I had our running game averaging around 7 yards a carry when he was in the game. That's not coincidence, obviously. As we start to let him throw more, I think we'll start to see why we've been touting him since the Spring.
Ash was clearly under orders not to pitch or give if there was any doubt at all on option plays and after watching the replay, there were only two times he could have made a different read. Seeing the starter jerked for turnovers and knowing each second half possession was precious, Ash wasn't going to reverse field position trying to be a hero. What some people characterized as selfish, I saw as mature risk-aversion. Obviously, Ash wasn't asked to throw the ball much (2-3-35, 26 yard flip to Monroe, catchable drop by White) and he's being brought along in a very specific way, but splitting snaps with the 1s in practice will allow some length on his chain. His physicality is noticeable - fantastic blocks thrown from the Wildcat and he extended the mesh point with DJ several times in order to encourage BYU's defenders to hit him and give Monroe some space. Zero hesitation in taking on BYU's hard-hitting LBs that put 3 Ole Miss Rebels out of last week's game. I love everything I see from this guy in terms of gameness and competitiveness and you have to love the 23 yard coup de grace catch from Shipley.
In my mind, the race at the QB position may not be Ash-McCoy so much as a race between Ash's ability to digest more offense before the meat of our schedule. Right now we're a pretty easy offense to prepare for with a week to get ready. Harsin knows it. Applewhite knows it. It's a sprint to get our QBs comfortable in the passing game under game conditions.
Malcolm Brown is special. And I don't think there are that many special RBs. A solid stat line of 14 carries for 68 yards doesn't do full justice to what he does in terms of maximizing runs. He consistently displayed vision, decisive quickness, and ran through arm tackles. He sees it, he has a great understanding of space and timing, and he's not going to fall for the Fool's Gold of a quick bounce out like every other young runner. His physical merits are obvious, but what makes him special is actually more about balance, quickness, and sense of space.
Fun with DVR: watch the 9:25 minute mark in the 4th quarter if you want to see what a pure running back looks like. Check out the unblocked BYU LB #2 waiting in the hole and the incredibly subtle move that Brown lays down to stagger him. You may have to rewind it a few times to absorb it. It's only a seven yard gain, but that represents the apogee of RB play.
He made plenty of other fine runs (game clincher), but that leapt off the screen to me in review. Despite a high level of play and clamors for 30 carries a game, I think the coaches have played his development nearly perfectly - don't forget he missed 10 days of training camp.
We're going to continue to feature Fozzy, Cody, DJ within their respective roles and we should. I don't think 25-30 carry a game Malcolm Brown would finish the year. Additionally, most of Brown's minimization of carries comes not from Fozzy (4 carries, very few snaps) but by the use of our Wildcat package and DJ Monroe. If you have an objection to that, you have an objection to some pretty productive offense. Clearly, Malcolm is The Man. But we should continue to complement him with some very specific talents and ration his use prudently as we increase the weekly workload.
Very impressed with Cody Johnson in short yardage again. He didn't convert on one of them, but BYU just did a hell of a job meeting him on the other side of the laser. We also expanded his use as a pure FB and though Berryhill is still the better run blocker (Cody shields more than drives through people), Johnson showed me some things protecting in the passing game cutting BYU's LBs and picking up pressure. We're also using him more as a 3rd down back. If teams start to regard him as a pure blocker there, I think we have some surprises for them.
DJ was a huge spark when things were darkest and I'll take 4 touches for 64 yards and two 20+ yard plays from my scat back. I love his competitiveness finishing runs at 175 pounds. As I've pointed out before, DJ is a mean little dude. Fun with DVR: Watch Goodwin's good kick return. DJ plows an exterior BYU kick coverage guy who has 30 pounds on him.
Fozzy only had 4 uneventful carries a nice screen pass that he nearly broke. Clearly, he's seeing his opportunities constricted by Monroe and Brown and such is life in a meritocracy. Berryhill brought it again.
Dominique Jones was surprisingly effective as a pass protector against 3-4 LBs. File that away for A&M. We used a lot of double TE to neutralize BYU's playmaking LBs and I thought that, along with David Ash's use in the running game, was significant in reducing their effectiveness. Van Noy and Pendleton will register some 4 sack games down the road for the Cougars and we turned them into quiet cogs in the front. We took them out of attack mode.
Fun with DVR: early in the game, when we're backed up on our own goalline, Pendleton takes a swing at Irby during a Brown run. Then both players pretend it didn't happen and stroll back to their respective huddles. In the 4th quarter, 210 pound John Harris crashes down on the 240 pound Pendleton on another Brown run and decleats him, much to the delight of Dominique Jones, who watches it happen in slow motion and high fives him while the play is still going on. Little moments in the game that make you laugh.
DJ Grant bailed out Case McCoy with heady play on his first college catch on 4th and 4 after our inside route was blanketed. Would love to see more of him. Irby was a willing blocker and Gilbert missed him at least once in the passing game.
Obviously, Jaxon Shipley is a baller of the highest order. Great ball skills, a flare for making the big play, and he wants it when it matters. We don't win the game without Shipley's two second half catches - one of them likely saving an interception. Mike Davis went without a catch and had a drop, but a well thrown ball by Gilbert in the 1st quarter probably goes for 50 (the sideline route, not the pick). I was troubled by Darius White. He dropped three catchable balls, had a participation penalty on 3rd down, he continues to have some effort issues in blocking, and he's headed from #3 WR to #6 with a bullet. Cayleb Jones and Thomas Johnson are coming next year too. Darrell Wyatt is not be messed with.
John Harris is a high effort animal and and I love him.
Every player on the OL had a moment of adversity last night (Allen was shaky in pass pro and couldn't acquire defenders on the 2nd level; Snow got worked on a couple of running plays by the island nation of Tonga; Espinosa kept firing off into a 325 pound stack of poi with little effect in the first half; 6-6 Mason Walters had trouble getting low on squatty BYU DL early), but they all battled through, particularly when we began to attack with some angles in the running game with man blocking and Brown was making gorgeous reads. Multiplicity in scheme sure does make OL better, doesn't it?
I constantly brag on Trey Hopkins and he repays me by allowing a sack on the opening play of the game where he was ragdolled on an inside power move by a BYU DE. Tre played good football after that though. BYU had some squatty dudes on their DL that were hard to move out of there, but it was interesting to see the Energizer go out of their bunny as our guys kept plugging away. That was the story of the game. We attacked BYU's strength mostly because we had to and by the end of the game, their DL climbed into their war canoes and fled after we toppled their mo'ai.
Revealing that our last crucial drives featured Hopkins at LT and Paden Kelley at RT. Kelley got it done and Hopkins really put the clamps on the active Van Noy down the stretch. Tre's utility is proving a lifesaver and kudos to Kelley for competing.
This was a great win. I'm proud of the team and coaches. If you still hold that we don't have some measure of accountability in the program now, I'm not sure what to say. Performers are being rewarded within the game and on the depth chart Monday.
Our near term goal is simple: Get an ugly grinding win over UCLA by any means necessary and use the following bye week before our next three games (@ Iowa State, OU, OSU) to sort out QB, get some reps, and expand our offense.
And I can't wait to offer the defensive write-up later tonight. I knew they played well, but the rewatch was better than anticipated. Our baby corners are all kinds of nasty.